What If the Egyptian Protesters Were Democrats?

by Steven Salaita

Their recent upheaval would certainly have been different, perhaps dramatically different.

In the past month, the people of Egypt—inspired by the recent democratic revolution in Tunisia and preceding emergent revolutions in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria—have undertaken a revolt of truly stunning proportions, one that includes men and women from all class strata, religious and ethnic origins, and ideological commitments.  They managed to rid themselves of a longstanding and brutal dictator worth over $40 billion and supported by the collective power of the United States, European Union, Israel, and the Arab Gulf States.

Now that two Arab dictators have been vanquished by the collective will of unaffiliated protesters, many American commentators have been forced to rethink their assumptions about the supposedly tribal and authoritarian Arab mind.  Such commentators, sometimes conservative but often liberal, fancy themselves guardians of a civic and political enlightenment that in reality is misinformed in addition to being conceited and imperialistic.

Nevertheless, given the ardor and self-confidence of the notion that American values exemplify democratic modernity, let us imagine a few potential outcomes had the pioneering people of Egypt followed the example of today’s liberal American Democrats.

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US, the Arab Revolt and al-Qaida

M. Shahid Alam

On December 24 2004, I wrote an essay, “America and Islam,” for which I received much heat from Zionist and right-wing bloggers in the United States.

The article made the point that the leaders of al-Qaida believe that they have to carry their war to the home ground of the ‘far enemy’ – the United States, Israel and Western powers – in order to free the Muslim world from foreign domination. This anyone can verify from the numerous communiqués of al-Qaida.

To say this is not to endorse the terrorist methods that al-Qaida employs. This was my moral position then: and it is my moral position now. At the same time, we should not shrink from recognizing that the total wars waged by many states, including the United States, since WWII differ from the methods of al-Qaida only in the infinitely greater scale of the destruction they wreak upon civilians.

The article made another critical point. It argued that al-Qaida, in some measure, reflects the political and moral failings of Muslim societies. If Muslims had shown more spine in resisting local tyrannies through non-violent means, their courage would have scotched the violent extremism of groups like al-Qaida.

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Pakistan: A Deficit of Dignity

M. Shahid Alam

Pakistan’s rulers and ruling elites may well be thinking that the wave of people’s indignation that started in Tunisia and is now working its way through Egypt, Jordan and Yemen will never reach them. Perhaps, they are telling each other, ‘We are safe: we are a democracy.’

The Arabs who are pouring into the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen are not protesting only against their dictatorships. Simultaneously, they are also protesting against governments that have sold their dignity and bartered the honor of their country. Nearly, all the Arab rulers are self-castrated eunuchs in the courts of foreign powers, who have turned their own countries into police states, and who jail, maim, torture and kill their own people to please their masters.

The Arabs are venting their anger against elites who have stymied their energies by turning their societies into prisons. In complicity with foreign powers, these elites have ruled by fear, blocking the forward movement of their people because this movement collides with the imperialist ambitions of Israel and the United States.

It is true that Pakistan has had ‘elected’ governments alternating with military dictatorships. Increasingly, however, these governments, whether civilian or military, have differed little from each other. The priority for both is to keep their power and US-doled perks by doing the bidding of the United States and Israel.

Starting in the early 1990s, Pakistan hurriedly embraced the neoliberal paradigm that emanated from Washington. Hastily, successive ministers of finance and privatization – all of them IMF appointees – went about dismantling Pakistan’s industries, selling off for a song its state-owned enterprises, and empowering Pakistan’s elites to engage in unchecked consumerism.

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